Farmington library survey: Residents love their books

A recent survey asking local residents about Farmington Community Library programs and services puts printed books at the top of the heap.

Trustees earlier this year hired Cynthia Pepper of Pepper Consulting to assess library operations. She told trustees during a Thursday electronic meeting that 2,162 people responded from about 90,000 emailed community surveys collected over about a two-week period.

The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to plans for community focus groups and in-person interviews, Pepper said.

The survey included a list of 20 services and asked patrons to indicate which ones they used. More than 1,300 respondents said they frequently check out paper books. The next highest responses, at 300 to 500, were DVDs, audio books, e-books, and on-site children’s programming.

Opportunities in unused services

Also telling, Pepper said, was that more than 500 respondents reported never using 19 of the 20 services currently offered.

“That shows there are an awful lot of opportunities to revisit what services, and the associated costs, are being delivered,” she said. “Maybe you’d want to take a look at how you’re communicating those services… maybe those services aren’t needed so much any more.”

Families with children and seniors were the largest demographic groups represented in the responses, Pepper said, which creates opportunities to blend programs for those two groups.

A separate survey went to all staff, including those on furlough, asking whether they had training opportunities and the tools to do their jobs.

“The staff had a lot of ideas about the things they felt could be done differently to be able to enhance services and programming,” Pepper said, adding that there was “an incredible emphasis on self-learning” and what self-development staff did on their own.

Ideas for new programs

Pepper was also impressed that 811 people, or 38 percent of respondents, took time to type in suggestions and ideas for new programs and offerings.

“Community people love their libraries… they really love their books,” she said. “They love their librarians. People saw an awful lot of opportunities to share ideas around programs and services.”

The survey also showed that many people weren’t aware of everything the library offers. Pepper said ideas about using different channels to publicize programs and services also came from staff members.

Suggestions from the community included book swaps, drag queen story times, and celebrating different cultures, Pepper said. Other ideas included the use of spaces, inside and out, for storybook gardens, sensory learning spaces, maker spaces, and places to meet. 

“There were a lot of ideas around innovation,” she said. “One of the challenges with innovation everywhere …is when you have people whose job is to run an organization, it’s really, really hard to be able to take the time to think and be strategic and be innovative… and then to follow through with things.”

Restructuring staff

Pepper presented draft recommendations for restructuring staff based on areas identified in the survey.

New positions to form a kind of “kitchen cabinet” or leadership team included specialists for innovation and outreach/marketing, a unified services manager who would work with staff members who develop programming, an administrative manager to handle operations, and an executive assistant for director Riti Grover, a position that is already filled.

Based on what patrons said they want, the library should expand staff skill sets in videography, genealogy, language, and advancement/development, Pepper said. She also developed a model that would reduce 74 job titles to 20, with suggested new job titles for the ones eliminated.

Pepper said new standardized job descriptions focus on responsibilities rather than tasks and allow for flexibility to move staff between the Farmington Hills and Farmington libraries, and help employees see opportunities for promotion.

Grover said she would dive into the information presented and “if people can be realigned or we can bring in more people, create more positions, I think that would be an absolute step that we can take in positioning ourselves to meet the community needs much better.”

Trustees asked about doing future surveys, and Pepper said some organizations do an annual update, but the library could also survey certain demographic groups or present shorter surveys during the year.

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